The gas leak inferno in Enugu State and other problems bedeviling the nation’s electricity sector may aggravate Nigeria’s gas-to-power challenges, OPEOLUWANI AKINTAYO writes
The perennial gas-to-power challenges ravaging the power sector may not abate soon, having been worsened by the Caritas University gas leak.
The gas leak inferno around Caritas University, Amorji-Nike, Enugu State, which began on May 25, 2022, and still burning as of press time, has exacerbated the low gas-to-power supply problem currently affecting the country.
Findings showed that the gas leak, which eventually caused a fire outbreak close to the university, started when the university community was trying, for the first time, to dig a borehole.
However, as they drilled deeper into the ground, about 290 metres (roughly 1000feet) out of their targeted 350 metres, they hit a gas pipeline which eventually caused a fire.
The PUNCH gathered that although no life was lost apart from one person who sustained a high degree face burn, the gas leak and fire have continued unabated.
The power sector has been hit with low gas supply recently, with most parts of the country experiencing total outages spanning into days. The gas leak entered its three weeks on June 8.
The President, Nigerian Association of Petroleum Explorationists, Dr. James Edet, who spoke with The PUNCH, said the quantity of the gas lost to the flare at the site was yet unknown as the fire was still burning, making it impossible for anyone to go near to the site.
“You can’t go more than 15 metres to the place because of the heat,” he told The PUNCH.
Although Caritas University is about 50m-100m away from the site of the flare, the school’s game pitch is close to the location of the fire.
“The flame is releasing hydro carbon into the air. Although the immediate effect may not be seen now, the cumulative effect is what we are thinking about. The flare has been on for more than one week, and we are thinking it could go on for about one month before things can be put into perspective,” he added.
Apart from the risks such flare poses to human lives and properties, one month of continuous gas flare – both day and night – is a huge loss to the country, including the power sector whose 21 out of 23 power plants run on gas.
The PUNCH noticed that power generation has hovered below 2000MW since the inferno broke out.
It was gathered that the point of the gas explosion is yet to be reached due to the huge fire said to be burning about 15 metres above the ground.
Some preliminary measures like pouring cement and sand into the hole created by the explosion have been employed as a means of stopping the fire, but all efforts appear not enough to quench the fire.
In a note of warning, a geologist, Dr. Princeton Dim, said, The problem with using such a mechanism to stop the fire is that you may think it is subsiding, but you now have other shallow leakages because this is gas. While there are no losses now, we should be cautious because any mutilation or unprofessional solutions can lead to more danger. It’s not a disaster yet, but it could turn out to be one, and this is worse because it is gas, which is highly flammable which requires professionals to deal with.”
The NAPE president, Edet, advised the public to tread with caution as they visit the site to avoid burns and other hazards associated with this type of flare (water and gas leak).
Although remediation efforts have been deployed by the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency, National Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission, National Emergency Management Agency, including the federal and state fire services, Edet told The PUNCH that “a more technical agency is needed.”
The Commission Chief Executive, NUPRC, Gbenga Komolafe, in a statement, said it had been confirmed that there was no pipeline right of way in the area but the incident was caused by the activities of some contractors who were drilling a water borehole on the university premises.
He said it was learnt that the university engaged the services of HydroGeo Engineering Services for the drilling of water borehole but the job was later sub-contracted to Orange Water Wells Drilling Company.
According to him, in the course of the drilling, pressurised seepage was encountered after about 200 metres and fumes were emitting from the drilled hole.
Following the incident, the school management was said to have asked students to go home till further notice.
The university founded by a Catholic priest, Rev Fr Emmanuel Ede, is yet to release an unofficial statement on the incident.
Shortage of gas-for-power production has recently led to low performances of the country’s 21 gas plants, according to an investigation by The PUNCH
The Ministry of Power, over the weekend, confirmed The PUNCH findings when it released a statement, apologising to the public over the current power supply dip and stated that there was a partial shutdown of the Oben gas plant to address the repair of critical gas processing equipment.
The statement signed by Special Adviser to the Minister of Power, Isa Sanusi, said, “the incident unfortunately occurred at a time when other power plants on other gas sources are undergoing planned maintenance and capacity testing.”
The spokesperson for Eko Electricity Distribution Company, EKEDC, Godwin Idemudia, told The PUNCH that the station currently got low allocation from the Transmission Company of Nigeria.
According to Idemudia, as of Saturday, load allocated to it was a mere 240MW out of expected 861MW.
The TCN had blamed the situation on a combination of issues ranging from gas constraints, fault, and technical problems within generating plants which caused persistent low generation and consequently low load allocation to distribution companies nationwide.
“This is based on the fact that TCN can only transmit what is being generated by Gencos and presently they are all generating below capacity,” the transmission company stated in a note.
It added, “It is important to note that except cumulative power generation increases considerably for TCN to transmit to distribution companies nationwide, TCN will be left with no choice but to continue to load shed.
The spokesperson for Electricity Consumers Association of Nigeria, Chijioke James, told The PUNCH that electricity consumers across the country were not happy with low power supply.
“Of course, we are not satisfied. Consumers want to have a steady and reliable power supply. Some of our members have complained that their prepaid meters get easily exhausted and we are still investigating the allegations. We have not seen a remarkable improvement in electricity supply across the country, and consumers are not satisfied. Many of our members, especially those in the low cadre, are burning fuel and unfortunately most of the time, fuel is scarce especially in Abuja.
“We hope that the government will rethink the power sector and look for ways either via legislation, look at the Power Sector Reform Act and see what can be done to cause massive investments that will revamp generation, transmission and distribution of electricity across the country. Our generation capacity is far inadequate for a country with our population, and economy,” he said.
The DisCos have, since last weekend, started apologising to their customers over low supply. Abuja Electricity Distribution Company said out of an allocation of 225.63MW, 40MW went under frequency issues from the grid.
“We’re consistently engaging TCN to manage the available allocation to the company. We expect that if stability is maintained, supply will be rotated to areas that are presently out,” it said on social media network, Twitter.
Despite the low power supply, The PUNCH investigation uncovered how The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission had quietly increased tariffs by N18/kWh after the Federal Government yanked off a yearly subsidy of N500bn to the power sector.
A World Bank report, titled, “The slowing progress on access to electricity: The Energy Progress Report”, classified Nigeria as the leader of 20 top countries with the largest ‘Electricity Access Deficit’ in the world with 92 million people unserved.
The spokesperson for Sahara Group, owners of Egbin Power (Genco), declined comments on the state of low power generation, especially on The PUNCH’s findings on the current state of the Egbin plant.
A metering expert and chartered accountant, Sesan Okunade, condemned the current low power supply as a result of low generation.
According to him, low or lack of the right investments in the sector by Gencos, DisCos and TCN had resulted in the current abysmal low power supply.
“From feelers across the country and the masses, supply has been very poor due to low gas supply. Majority of the GenCos don’t either get gas, or that they get low supplies.
“Also, the network systems of many of these DisCos are majorly on cobwebs, and it’s difficult to trace faults whenever issues arise. Most of their transformers are also obsolete. Most of them are 15-20 years old, and all they do is service them. We observe that even with some of these DisCos, if they try to power some of their transformers for 24 hours, they might explode. So, the poor investment in some of the basic infrastructures is a problem,” he said.
Industry observers believe it may be difficult to predict when the concerned government authorities will find a formidable solution to the problem. However, electricity consumers have continued to groan as the gas-to-power challenges linger across the country. PUNCH